Make WordPress Accessible

Webbism Founder and Director, Charlie Carter, on the options that developers have to improve accessibility within the WordPress content management system (CMS) platform.

Charlie Spoke to Media Access Australia before his presentation at the WordCamp Brisbane conference, running 30-31 May, which will cover practical insights into and advice about making WordPress more inclusive.


 

Where do you usually begin when people ask you about WordPress and accessibility?

Charlie Carter: A good starting point is to ascertain what the client is currently doing to address their accessibility requirements. Questions are asked such as “Is there a clear methodology for content publishers to tag images, using proper headings, etc.?”

We might then take a look at some immediate improvements that can be made, items such as improving colour contrast, introducing a more readable typeface, skip links, etc. These are all pretty straight forward to implement.

Lastly, I would reassure them that accessibility is a process and that the end result is creating a more inclusive experience for the broadest audience possible.

Driving positive change from within an organisation starts from the top down and is essential to ensure all stakeholders understand both the responsibilities and the benefits of improving accessibility overall.

WordPress itself is attractive to many as it is easy to use, open source and well supported in the community. We want that to grow so that including implementing accessibility enhancements as part of the attraction to using WordPress as well.

What are some of the more common accessibility issues that come up with WordPress?

CAPTCHAs [a tool for identifying that a user of a website is a real person] are known to be problematic to a wider audience (not just those who identify with having a disability).

Some CAPTCHA plugins are more accessible than others, so critically I would recommend only using a CAPTCHA which has a ‘good’ accessible alternative—or even better, use other methods that have shown to be proven just as effective, such as the honey-pot method.

Based on the traffic the site receives, we find that it is an advantage to be open-minded and to consider alternatives that provide a better user experience to all users.

Captioning can be a challenge initially, but thanks to [captions and translation] tools such as Amara, the learning curve to approach issues like captioning is a lot less steep than it used to be.

Of course, when you mention the potential SEO benefits to providing text-based alternatives for videos, or even infographics, the results are a win-win situation.

What’s your take on WordPress’s accessibility when compared to other popular CMSes?

It’s looking good, especially if we count the last two-to-three years or so. I think the rise in its own popularity as well as being an open-source platform has enabled accessibility to evolve to a point where it is now easier than ever to create a visually impressive and highly adaptable site using WordPress.

Thanks to the dedication of a number of individuals and the team at Make WordPress Accessible, there is a wealth of information available that allows developers to leverage off various tools, plug-ins and best practices for making lasting changes to addressing accessibility as a challenge rather than a chore.

For its part, WordPress now makes it even easier to create an accessible website with its recent addition ofaccessibility-ready tags when browsing themes and there are new themes being added all the time.

What are some of the plug-ins that developers can use to improve the accessibility of WordPress?

Of course, too many to be able to list them all, but here are a couple of my favourites:

  • WP Accessibility by Joe Dolson is a simple, all-in-one plugin that addresses a variety of common accessibility problems in WordPress themes. It provides a number of tools that are helpful in both identifying accessibility issues and also allows users to activate various tools to make effective enhancements.
  • Access Monitor by Joe Dolson (yes I am a bit of a fan of Joe’s) is a relatively new plugin that leverages off the Tenon.io API which was developed by Karl Groves. Access Monitor allows site admins to run automated accessibility testing on a regular schedule and flags any issues as they arise. This makes maintaining an accessible website much easier. In my experience, I am often reluctant to sign off and certify a website to be WCAG 2.0 AA as I know it doesn’t take a lot of effort to undo much of the work put in to suddenly make a site less accessible than it once was. Tenon.io and Access Monitor alleviate much of that risk and serve as timely prompts to developers to be regularly checking their site for any new and unexpected changes.

Do you have any advice for designers and content authors around WordPress and accessibility?

I think the best way to understand accessibility is to embrace it. It’s easy to make assumptions about your audience that they are all able-bodied with 20/20 vision but unfortunately this is not the reality. Good accessibility means we can anticipate a variety of conditions to provide an effective solution that benefits everyone.

Let’s take colour blindness as an example. Roughly 10 per cent of all internet users have problems seeing colours. Remember the social media frenzy which centred around the colour of a particular dress earlier this year? It was a great example of how colour is perceived by our brains because each of us use a different proportion of red, green and short-wave light receptors in our eyes when we see colour.

Adding in alt-text and proper headings is a very simple way to assist screen readers navigate and describe content on your site. This of course can be applied to any CMS being used, not just WordPress.

Final thoughts?

With Global Accessibility Awareness Day just around the corner, this is an important time of year for all of us to appreciate how assistive technology has driven innovation and, more importantly, that the opportunities it provides those with a disability is something we take for granted until it happens to us.

Some people it happens to in an instant, in some people it develops over time and some people are simply born with it. We must understand that disability needs do not to define the individual, and demonstrate our ability to appreciate human diversity. This is what good accessibility sets out to achieve.

I certainly look forward to sharing my thoughts and to learn more from others when I present at WordCamp next month.

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